Architecture of Seattle

The architecture of Seattle, largest city of the US Pacific Northwest, includes aspects that predate the mid-nineteenth century arrival of the area’s first settlers of European ancestry, and has reflected and influenced numerous architectural styles over time. As of 2015, a major construction boom continues to reconfigure Seattle’s Downtown, as well as neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, Ballard and, perhaps most dramatically, South Lake Union.

Native and native-influenced architecture
Prior to the arrival of European settlers in the Puget Sound area, the largest building in the Salish Sea region was Old Man House, a longhouse roughly 13.5 miles (21.7 km) northwest of Downtown Seattle near the present-day town of Suquamish. Measuring roughly 800 feet (240 m) in length, it was the largest longhouse ever known and remained the largest building in the region until it was burned by the United States government in 1870.

While there were no native structures of this scale within the city limits of present-day Seattle, the Duwamish tribe had at least 13 villages in that area. Of these, the largest and most important was dzee-dzee-LAH-letch or sdZéédZul7aleecH (“little crossing-over place”) near present-day Pioneer Square, with an estimated 200 people in 1800, before Old World diseases caused massive death in the region. It consisted of eight longhouses, each roughly 60 by 120 feet (18 by 37 m), and an even larger potlatch house.

Although no significant architectural structures from the era before European settlement survive as anything more than archaeological sites, several present-day Seattle buildings deliberately evoke traditional regional Native American architecture. Examples of this include Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Discovery Park, owned by the United Indians of All Tribes; the Duwamish Longhouse, owned by the Duwamish tribe, just west of the Duwamish River, roughly across the street from the present-day Herring’s House Park, whose name commemorates the second-largest historical Duwamish village, tohl-AHL-too (“herring’s house”) or hah-AH-poos (“where there are horse clams”); wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (“Intellectual House”), a multi-service learning and gathering space for Native American students, faculty and staff on the Seattle campus of the University of Washington; and Ivar’s Salmon House, a restaurant on the north shore of Lake Union.

Residential architecture

Summarizing the styles of Seattle single-family residential architecture in 1986, Jim Stacey identified the typical houses of the inner neighborhoods as “Both one and two-story older frame houses, with such names as bungalow, craftsman, Tudor, Victorian, Dutch Colonial, and saltbox,” noting roughly 5 miles (8.0 km) from the center these give way to newer styles such as “rambler and split-level” with Cape Cods in between, both chronologically and geographically.:7–8 Few homes survive from before 1900. Prior to the World War II era, homes were constructed mostly of brick or wood, with a wider variety of materials after that. Many concrete block houses were built in the 1950s.:8 Sam DeBord lists major styles chronologically as “Queen Anne – Victorian, Seattle Box – Four Square, Craftsman Bungalow – Arts and Crafts, Dutch Colonial, Tudor, Cape Cod, Mid-Century, Stark 60s Modern, Split-Entry, NW Contemporary – Minimalist, Post-Modernism” along with recent “Traditional Revivals” and “Modern Hybrids”.

Seattle in the 21st Century is essentially a “built out” city: typically, to build new houses means demolishing older houses. As of 2016, Seattle builders are tearing down older homes at the average of about one a day; most are being replaced with larger homes. The most affected areas are Ballard and the Central District, followed by Crown Hill/North Greenwood, Queen Anne, Green Lake/Wallingford and Phinney Ridge/Fremont.

Pacific Northwest Contemporary is a modern architecture style that emerged in the 21st century following Northwest Regional style of the mid-20th century. It retains earlier influences from Japanese architecture and utilizes an open floor plan and materials found in the Northwest such as cedar wood and locally-found stones including granite and basalt.

Apartment buildings
Seattle residents in the early years of European-American settlement lived either in private houses, boarding houses, lodging houses (like boarding houses, but without the provision of meals), or generally modest residential hotels. The last of these arrangements began to evolve into apartments houses in the late 19th Century, with many of the apartment buildings located near streetcar lines. Seattle has very few remaining 19th-century apartment buildings. Two with city landmark status are the Victorian Row Apartments, 1234 South King Street on the border of the International District and Central District and the Wayne Apartments in Belltown. Victorian Row was built in 1891 on a site near its current location, moved in 1909 during the Jackson Street Regrade, and rehabilitated 1992–1993, constitutes Seattle’s only remaining structurally unaltered 19th-century apartment building. The Wayne Apartments, originally three row houses, is probably best known for the bars along Second Avenue in a 1911 extension of the building toward the street. The three two-story attached wood-frame rowhouses were constructed some time between 1888 and 1893, and were representative of “a once-common but now extremely rare rowhouse building form in Seattle.” Around 1906 the neighborhood was the subject of one of Seattle’s many regrades. By 1911, the old buildings had been divided into apartments. They were raised to become the upper stories of a building with commercial buildings at street level, constituting a “regrade hybrid,” common both here in the Denny Regrade and in the regraded portions of the International District. An apartment building dating from 1903, somewhat structurally similar to the Wayne Apartments, and similarly raised in 1911 to add a commercial ground floor, stood at the northeast corner of 12th Avenue East and East Pike Street on Capitol Hill until it was demolished in 2014.

Around 1910 Seattle began to see apartment buildings for a wealthier clientele. On Capitol Hill, apartments from the 1910s advertised such features as private baths, gas ranges, refrigerators, telephones, bay windows, hardwood floors, built-in cabinetry, leaded and/or beveled glass, and entry through a marble-floored lobby. The Bamberg (1910), still standing at 416 E Roy Street on Capitol Hill, was designed by architect John Corrigan for brick contractor Charles H. Bamberg. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods notes that this building of fourteen four-room apartments, with deep eaves and recessed balconies, provides a “good example of the elegant materials and design used to help many apartments blend in to the areas that were primarily single family at the time they were built.” The Phoenix (535 20th Avenue East) even offered some apartments with 18 feet (5.5 m) ceilings. Closer to the center of town, where Olive Way curves up from downtown near present-day Interstate 5, are more modest apartment buildings such as the brick-and-clapboard Celeste (1906) at East Olive Place & Melrose, the Lauren Renee (1912, John Creutzer) to its immediate east, and around the corner on Bellevue Avenue the Bel Fiore (1907, Henderson Ryan) with its arched recessed entry. Nearby, the 6-story Biltmore (1924, Stuart & Wheatley) tried to mix economy and luxury. Most of its 125 apartments were (and are) small “studio apartments” with no separate bedroom, but some apartments were considerably larger, and the building features an elegant Tudor Gothic design, a marble and mahogany lobby, and originally included a tea room and had a full staff more typical of a luxury building. Further north, where the west side of Capitol Hill becomes a near-cliff with views across Lake Union to Queen Anne Hill, are view buildings such as the Ben Lomond (1910, Ellsworth Green), “queezed onto a site that appears unbuildable,” with 24 large apartments, designed with a children’s playhouse on the roof rather than a penthouse apartment; the Roundcliffe (1925, Stuart & Wheatley); and the Belroy (1931, William Bain, Sr. & Lionel Pries), as “bold” in its Art Deco design as in being a luxury building built during the Great Depression. After the construction of Interstate 5 in the early 1960s, numerous properties in between these two areas were redeveloped as apartment buildings with panoramic views, despite freeway noise and pollution. Victor Steinbrueck wrote in 1973, “The architecture of the various apartments is neither generally harmonious nor of high quality, but these do form an interesting, variegated, architectural wall above the roadways.”

In the same era as apartments began to be built on Capitol Hill, the mansions of First Hill began to give way to duplexes, row houses, and apartment buildings, with one of the first apartment buildings being the still-extant Mission-style San Marco at 1205 Spring Street (Saunders and Lawton, completed 1905). Even older is the St. Paul (1901, Spalding & Russell) at 1302-08 Seneca Street, “Seattle’s first multifamily dwelling to qualify as a purpose-built apartment building,” with three separate lobbies. Although St. Paul’s eighteen spacious apartments with 10-foot (3.0 m) ceilings survive to this day, the building has lost almost all of its exterior architectural details.

Further east, a bit farther from the city center along the Madison Street cable car line in then-suburban Renton Hill, William P. White built the six-story Olympian Apartments (1913) on an unusual five-sided lot with views of both Lake Washington and Puget Sound. The Beaux Arts exterior made extensive use of decorative terra cotta; the building featured an elevator, dumbwaiters, a main staircase, and a separate service staircase, and was one of Seattle’s first apartment buildings to feature a basement garage. Five apartments on each floor averaged 1,275 square feet (118.5 m2). Besides a parlor and a kitchen, two of the five apartments on each floor had a bedrooms and a maid’s room (vs. two bedrooms and no maid’s room for the other units), though the 1920 census shows that only a few of the ostensible maid’s rooms were actually used for that purpose, and several apartments housed either extended families or groups of unrelated adults.

Puget Sound was a major shipbuilding center, and apartment construction boomed along with the rest of Seattle’s economy through World War I, but with the end of the war came a downturn. Another building boom late in the 1920s brought yet more apartment buildings to First Hill. The 12-story Spring Apartments at 1223 Spring Street (built 1929) were among several designed by Earle W. Morrison. With a brick veneer, a red tile roof, and terracotta details, the building has only two apartments per floor, and a 13-room penthouse on the top floor, with terraces. The design featured fireplaces, foyers, reception rooms, tiled kitchens and baths, servants’ quarters, electric clothes dryers (something of a novelty at the time) and a separate service elevator. Nearby at 1215 Seneca Street, the L-shaped Spanish Colonial Revival-style building now known as the Tuscany Apartments was built in 1928 as the Piedmont Apartment Hotel, with 30 apartments and 112 hotel rooms. In 1963 the building was purchased by the Salvation Army and operated as the Evangeline Young Women’s Residence, before eventually being rehabilitated again as apartments. The hotel dining room survives and is used by the Northwest School. Its New-York-born architect Daniel Huntington practiced briefly in Denver before his distinguished career in Seattle. As City of Seattle Architect (1912-1921) he designed the Lake Union Steam Plant and at least ten fire stations and libraries. After leaving his city position, he variously practiced solo and partnered with various prominent architects, including Carl F. Gould and Arthur Loveless. This was also the era of the most prominent Frederick Anhalt buildings discussed above and of International Village, a group of apartment buildings on 17th Avenue just south of Union Street, built (and probably designed) in 1928-29 by developer-builder Samuel Anderson. Although all of the International Village buildings are three-story, 14-to-16-unit rectangular buildings with central entrances and with apartments ranging from 660 square feet (61 m2) to 900 square feet (84 m2), their elaborate façades variously evoke Art Deco, Colonial Revival, Mediterranean Revival, French Provincial and Tudor Revival styles.

Several prominent buildings of this era that are not commonly thought of as apartment buildings nonetheless contain apartments. The four-story auditorium in the Eagles Auditorium Building (Henry Bittman, 1925) was surrounded on three sides by the Senator Apartments; The Paramount Theatre (originally Seattle Theatre, 1928, B. Marcus Priteca et al.) includes the Studio Apartments, an eight-story structure on the Pine Street side, now offices but once home to numerous Seattle musicians and music teachers.

The Great Depression hit Seattle hard, and brought a slowdown in apartment construction, as in most other sectors. However, World War II brought an economic boom, centered this time on airplane manufacture at Boeing on the outskirts of the city. An influx of workers created an increased demand for working class housing. Among the projects that tried to meet this need was the Yesler Terrace public housing development near Downtown, the first project of the Seattle Housing Authority and the first racially integrated public housing project in the United States. Originally covering 22 city blocks, it had 863 dwelling units in 97 multi-family buildings, mostly low-rise garden apartments. The first portion was built before the war as low-income housing; the second, on the same general plans, as housing for defense workers and their families. Around 1960, 25 buildings with 256 units were lost to the construction of Interstate 5, and three more buildings with 25 units were lost to build a community center in 2003. A 2010 landmark nomination states, “Upon its completion, the project was lauded for its progressive social goals and its Modern design.” As of 2017, most of the original Yesler Terrace buildings have been demolished, and the area is being converted to mixed use, including mixed-income housing. There is supposed to be no net loss of low-income housing.

Victor Steinbrueck, writing in 1962, criticized the “less-than-luxury” apartments then-recently developed on Capitol Hill, especially those that preceded a 1959 zoning law change. “At first glance, the apartments appear to be consistent with the clean, direct approach associated with contemporary architecture, but… he open outside corridors… pass in front of large ‘view’ windows in the living rooms of the individual apartments… Most tenants close their blinds and look for another apartment when their lease runs out.”

There were a number of notable pre-war apartment buildings elsewhere in town, such as the Wilsonian Apartments (Frank Fowler, 1923) in the University District, the Mission-style Friedlander/La Playa Vista (Alban Shay, 1927) at Alki, and numerous buildings on Queen Anne Hill. Downtown and Belltown also saw some construction of apartment buildings in the same era as First and Capitol Hills, but nothing next to what these two neighborhoods, along with Ballard, have seen in recent decades. At the end of 2016, the Seattle Times estimated that there would be 7,400 new apartments in the next two years just in Belltown and nearby South Lake Union, most of them priced as luxury units despite somewhat “cookie-cutter” designs.

In the 21st Century, numerous apartment buildings have been built in Capitol Hill’s Pike-Pine Corridor, incorporating façades from the old Auto Row buildings of the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District; (see section Façadism below). Other conversions to apartments or condominiums in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries have left the original buildings largely intact, but repurposed them as dwellings. These have included schools such as the former Queen Anne High School (built 1908, architects James Stephen & Floyd Naramore; converted 1986, Albert O. Bumgardner) and West Queen Anne School (built 1896, architects Warren Porter Skillings & James N. Corner; converted 1983-84 by Cardwell/Thomas and Associates); Fire Station No. 25 (built 1909, architects Somervell & Cote; converted 1980, Stickney – Murphy); office buildings such as the Cobb Building (built 1910, architect Howells & Stokes; converted 2006, GGLO Architecture & Interior Design) and Seaboard Building (built 1909 as the Northern Bank and Trust Company Building, architect William Doty Van Siclen; converted 2000 by NBBJ); warehouses such as the Florentine (built 1909, architects Lohman & Place; converted 1990) in Pioneer Square or the Monique Lofts (built 1913; converted 1999) on Capitol Hill; and at least one church, the First Church of Christ Scientist, now a condominium known as The Sanctuary (built 1914, architects Bebb & Mendel; converted 2010-2012 by the Runberg Group).

Floating homes
Seattle has had floating homes (also known as houseboats) almost since the time of first European settlement. At one time there were over 2,500 such homes in the city, not even counting seaworthy live-aboard boats. From the first, these included floating slums of shabby shacks, but gentrified houseboats go back at least to 1888 when the Yesler Way cable car reached Leschi on Lake Washington and a string of luxury summer getaways (none of them surviving today) lined the shore from there north to Madison Park. A 1980 This Old House episode about a Seattle houseboat inspired the setting for the 1993 film Sleepless in Seattle. Seen by some as a bohemian paradise and by others as “lawless nests of anarchic outcasts, rowdy riff-raff, and the flotsam of society,” some houseboat colonies succumbed to zoning changes, public health scares, or shoreline and freeway development, while others have survived even in the face of similar pressures. As of 2010, there were about 480 floating homes on Lake Union and a lesser number elsewhere in the city.

Seattle’s earliest floating homes were on the downtown waterfront. These were cleared out for sanitary infractions in 1908; at the time some moved to Harbor Island and the Duwamish River. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Harbor Island colony grew into a floating Hooverville; it was cleared out during the war, with some of the more sound structures moving to Lake Union. A few floating homes remain on the Duwamish even in the 21st Century. Meanwhile, a 1907 law intended to raise money for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition forced landowners with shoreline property along Lake Union to either buy the submerged extensions of their property or lose control of them. While the landowners were hardly happy with the law, clear title led many of them to build piers and rent space for houseboats. By 1914, about 200 residences were floating on Lake Union; one was the former Hostess House from the A-Y-P Exposition, transferred to a barge, which remained on the lake into the 1960s. By 1922 the number was up to 1,100, exacerbating issues of water pollution: most of the houseboats fed their sewage directly into the lake, as did many shoreline properties.

Conflicts over sanitation and occasionally building codes and aesthetics continued. By 1938 the last of the floating homes on Lake Washington were banished. The Portage Bay and Lake Union colonies were repeatedly in conflict with nearby neighborhood associations. Some were evicted due to major shoreline projects, such as a Coast and Geodetic Survey Base in 1962. In the 1920s, the houseboaters had formed their first formal association, the short-lived Houseboat and Home Protective League; this was succeeded by the Waterfront Improvement Club in 1939, also short-lived. In November 1962, the houseboaters finally formed a long-lived neighborhood association of their own, the Floating Homes Association, with King County deputy assessor George Neale as its first president and activist reporter Terry Pettus as its administrative secretary. That organization has now survived for over 50 years. The sanitation issues were finally settled in 1965, with the installation of the Portage Bay-Lake Union Sewer Line.

In 1972, one threat to the surviving houseboats was removed when state lands commissioner, Bert Cole announced tougher policies on use of underwater lands, effectively preventing the construction of any further large apartment complexes on piers. Four years later, a city ordinance backed by Mayor Wesley Uhlman and councilman John Miller codified regulations to preserve a diverse Lake Union, including houseboats; a 1987 Shoreline Master Program declared houseboats to be a “preferred” shoreline use.

Seattle’s houseboats differ in numerous ways from other housing in the city. In contrast to other single-family dwellings, any parking is inevitably on shore, with the docks themselves entirely pedestrianized. Many have small sailboats or dinghies docked at their sides; some have floating gardens, including vegetable gardens. A typical 1920s houseboat was a small rectangular building, built atop a raft of logs or a former fishing barge, often with a rounded “‘sprung’ roof… constructed by… bending ships laps (notched lath) over a central beam or two and nailing them down to the side walls,” although those with more money and stronger aesthetic concerns opted for peaked roofs, more like the houses ashore. They ranged from tar paper-covered shacks to pleasant shingled houses. In that era, houseboats lined the shore; houseboat piers reaching out into the lake were a later development.

The rafts or barges inevitably rotted over time, and replacing them was not easy. By the 1970s, the preferred flotation devices were “styrofoam logs”, with a lift of 60 pounds per cubic foot (960 kg/m³). By that time, the nature of new houseboats was changing radically. Architects such as Grant Copeland began designing high-end floating homes in the 1960s; many of the newer floating homes had two stories, where as nearly all of the old ones were single-story. People began to see houseboats as investments. By 1974, Dick Wagner, president of the Floating Homes Association, was warning that Lake Union was turning into a “floating Bellevue” (alluding to a wealthy Seattle suburb). “The people are now interesting but rich. They used to be interesting but poor.”

Office and retail buildings
The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods describes Pioneer Square as “Seattle’s original downtown… ebuilt after the devastating “Great Fire” of 1889…characterized by late nineteenth century brick and stone buildings and one of the nation’s best surviving collections of Romanesque Revival style urban architecture.” Since 1970, it has been listed federally as a National Historic District and a locally as a preservation district. The neighborhood was rebuilt rapidly after the fire with buildings that met the conditions of the new building code, Ordinance 1147. Construction halted almost completely after the Panic of 1893, then resumed at a rapid pace five years later as Seattle became a jumping-off point for the Klondike Gold Rush. Because the center of Seattle’s downtown later shifted several blocks north, a very large number of these 1890s buildings were still intact, though run down, as the architectural conservation movement grew in the 1960s. Over the decades since, most of the district’s surviving older buildings have been successfully rehabilitated.

At the other end of Downtown is Pike Place Market, the oldest continually operating farmers’ market in the United States and another historic district with both national and city status. A public market since 1907, after threats to its continued existence in the late 1960s it underwent major rehabilitation in the early 1970s, with a plan that centered on “preserving the buildings in their original form, as much as possible.”

As of 2017, Downtown Seattle contains all but one of the 20 tallest buildings in Washington (the nearby Space Needle being the sole exception); the vast majority are office buildings, although the office-residential-hotel Rainier Square Tower, which broke ground is slated to become the city’s second-tallest building; the F5 Tower, due to be completed in 2017, will be partly a hotel; and the all-hotel Hyatt Regency Seattle under construction at 8th and Howell will also make it into the top 20. Even the Smith Tower, built in 1914 and until 1931 the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, remains taller than any building in the state outside of Seattle. Notable among the older buildings are the 15-floor Alaska Building (1904) designed by St. Louis, Missouri firm Eames and Young; the 17-floor Hoge Building (1911, Bebb and Mendel); and the aforementioned Smith Tower (1914, Gaggin & Gaggin); all of these are near the south end of the present-day downtown. The downtown core edged north with the Dexter Horton Building; completed in 1924, the 14-story building covers roughly half a city block. A few years later and a bit further north came two notable Art Deco buildings, both built on the verge of the Great Depression: the Eliel Saarinen-influenced Seattle Tower (1929, Albertson, Wilson & Richardson), originally known as the Northern Life Tower, and the 22-story Exchange Building (1930, John Graham & Associates).

From the Great Depression of the 1930s well into the 1960s, Seattle added relatively few major office buildings. The drought was somewhat broken by the International Style Norton Building (1959, Bindon & Wright, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill), but the Central Business District skyline changed little until the 50-floor Seattle-First National Bank Building (now Safeco Plaza; 1969, NBBJ), 42-floor Union Bank of California Building (now simply known as 901 Fifth Avenue; 1973, John Graham & Company); and 37-floor Federal Building (now Henry M. Jackson Federal Building, 1974, John Graham & Company) the 32-floor Pacific Northwest Bell Building (now Qwest Plaza or simply 1600 Seventh, 1976, John Graham & Company); and the 41-floor Rainier Bank Tower (now Rainier Tower, 1977, NBBJ and Minoru Yamasaki). All of these were designed by architects with strong local connections: NBBJ and John Graham were both Seattle-based firms, and New-York-based Yamasaki was born, raised, and educated in Seattle.

As new buildings in an already-developed city center, the construction these and others represented loss of earlier major buildings. For example, one of the buildings sacrificed for the Federal Building was Elmer H. Fisher’s Richardsonian Romanesque Burke Building (1890), comparable to his surviving Pioneer Building; the Rainier Tower and adjoining Rainier Square in the Metropolitan Tract required the demolition of the Beaux-Arts White Henry Stuart Buildings (1907–1911, Howells and Stokes), built on the same general design as the surviving Cobb Building (1910). While it is certainly true that Seattle’s Central Business District has moved steadily north, the impression of this is exaggerated by the loss of many major late 19th and early 20th century buildings in what was once the northern part of the business district and is now the center, while Pioneer Square to the south remained relatively intact.

The trend toward tall office buildings continued beyond the late 1970s. The 76-story, 287.4 m (943 ft) Columbia Center (originally Columbia Seafirst Center, 1982–1985, Chester Lindsey Architects) is currently the third tallest structure on the West Coast (after the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles and the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco). Its bulk prompted a reaction in terms of height limits, zoning that favored interesting profiles, and height and density bonuses for public amenities. These strongly influenced the city’s second-tallest building, the 55-story, 235.31 m (772.0 ft) Deco Revival 1201 Third Avenue (originally Washington Mutual Tower, 1986–1988, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and The McKinley Architects). There was then a gap of 17 years until the next major skyscraper, the Russell Investments Center (originally WaMu Center), which opened in 2006. Although the Great Recession of 2008-2012 constituted another shorter slack period, Seattle emerged from that with a record-setting construction boom.

Like most American cities, Seattle has long had its share of downtown retail, including department stores and a few older-style shopping arcades. The initial commercial center was the Pioneer Square neighborhood, but by 1910 there was “a distinct concentration of specialty and department stores … along Second Avenue from Marion Street to Pike Street”; a surviving architectural example as of 2016 is the J.A Baillargeon Building (1908) at the northeast corner of 2nd Avenue and Spring Street. At one time the strip also included the Rialto Building (1894, Skillings and Corner), original site of Frederick & Nelson; The Bon Marché (1896, 1902, 1911, Saunders and Lawton); the Arcade Building/Rhodes Store (1903); the subject Galland Building/Stone Fisher Lane Store (1906, extant but scheduled for demolition as of 2016); the Chapin Building/ McDougall and Southwick Co. (1907). The department store district eventually shifted slightly north and east. Prominent among the historic department stores are the Bon Marché flagship store (1929, now Macy’s, which absorbed The Bon), Nordstrom, and Frederick & Nelson (1918, now defunct; their former flagship store is now the Nordstrom flagship store) The Bon and Frederick’s flagship stores are both now official Seattle Landmarks; the Bon is also on the National Register. Surviving arcades include much of Pike Place Market, the shops at the Olympic Hotel or in Ralph Anderson’s 1971–1972 remodel of the Squire-Latimer Building/Grand Central Hotel, now Grand Central on the Park. The city was a relative latecomer to modern, in-city “galleria”-style malls. The first such was Westlake Center (1988), followed by the larger Pacific Place (1998).

The city has the usual complement of strip malls, as well as two major suburban-style malls. Northgate Mall, designed by John Graham, Jr., opened in 1950 as an open-air mall, one of the country’s first post-war, suburban mall-type shopping centers. University Village, built on former lakebed northeast of the main campus of the University of Washington, was originally (1956) comparable to Westwood Village in West Seattle and Aurora Village north of city limits in Shoreline, Washington and like them was originally developed by Continental Inc. After a change in management, University Village was reworked to create stronger pedestrian spaces and bring in more upmarket tenants. The Seattle area’s other suburban-style malls (such as Westfield Southcenter) all sit outside city limits.

Seattle annexed several other towns and cities in the period 1905–1910, many of whose historic centers now constitute important commercial neighborhoods within the city. The shopping districts of Ballard and Columbia City both center on federally- and city-recognized historic districts preserving buildings many of which date back to their period as an independent town (Ballard) or city (Columbia City).

The 21st Century has seen a major expansion of Seattle’s commercial center into South Lake Union. Previously predominantly a district of small buildings with light industrial uses, since 2000 it has become mostly a district of mid-rise office buildings. Beginning in the mid-2010s, more high-rises and residential buildings are being added to the mix. As of 2015, the district has a major presence from and a variety of biotech businesses. While no one architect has been strongly identified with the district, much of the construction has been driven by Vulcan, Inc., owned by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.

Official landmarks
In the late 1960s, in reaction to proposed radical redevelopment of Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market, numerous individuals and organization agitated for a more preservationist approach. These two districts were designated as “historic” by the city in 1970 and 1971, respectively, and the city established what is now the Landmarks Preservation Board 1973, seven years after the federal government passed the National Historic Preservation Act.

The City of Seattle grants landmark status independent of the NRHP, and As of 2015 has done so for over 450 buildings and structures, as well as eight historic districts. As of 2015 there are over 175 Seattle buildings, structures, and districts on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). A given building may have either status, both or neither. Many buildings discussed and depicted in this article have NRHP or Seattle Landmark status.

Any person or organization can normally begin the designation process to establish a Seattle Landmark, although if a building is rejected for landmark status then for the next five years only its owner may restart the process. If the board chooses to designate a property, a process of hearings and (potentially) appeals crafts a specific ordinance of controls and incentives, which ultimately comes before the city council to be voted on as an ordinance.

For some buildings, only the exterior is a designated landmark; for others, the interior is also included. Buildings and structures that are either landmarked in their own right or that fall within city-designated historic districts require a Certificate of Approval for any exterior change, addition or modification of signs, change of paint color, changes to the public right-of-way (e.g. sidewalk displays, street lights), etc.; in some cases such a certificate is required for establishment of a different business on the premises. In exchange, they may be exempted from various zoning and open space rules, and can transfer certain development rights more freely than other buildings. Also, when a landmark property is rehabilitated, the value of those improvements goes untaxed for up to a decade.

In contrast, NRHP designation does not restrict use, treatment, transfer, or disposition of private property, nor does the NRHP list properties whose owner objects. NRHP listing is mostly a matter of prestige, although there are some federal tax benefits for NRHP-listed commercial buildings.

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